Sometimes Lightroom just overcomplicates things. You have to import images into a catalog which just gets bigger and slower and bigger and slower, and sometimes you make changes to your files and folders outside of Lightroom and then you have to remember to Synchronize your folders…
Lightroom can be a pain, especially if all you want is to be able to browse your image folders ‘live’ and do all those great Lightroom adjustments but without the importing.
Well you can. It’s very straightforward. Adobe doesn’t make a big fuss of this feature, perhaps because it might make folk wonder why they need Lightroom, but here it is (and apologies to those of you who know about this already).
First of all, you need Adobe Bridge. This comes free with Adobe Photography Plans but doesn’t get a lot of attention because it’s basically just a file browser rather than a cataloguing program. It’s treated like a kind of utility… but it deserves better.
That’s because within Adobe Bridge you can right-click an image and choose Open in Camera Raw. Now Camera Raw is the tool that Photoshop uses to process RAW files before it can edit them, but Camera Raw has a life all of its own. You can open, edit and save images using Adobe Camera Raw without launching Photoshop at all.
There’s more. Adobe Camera Raw uses the same processing engine, and has the same adjustment tools, as Lightroom. The interface looks different, but the tools are the same.
What this means is that you can use Adobe Bridge and Camera Raw to browse, open and edit your images without having to bring them into Lightroom. When you make changes and close the image, the adjustments are saved as metadata – so this is full non-destructive editing – and the image thumbnail updates to show your changes. The underlying image is unchanged.
But what if you decide you want a permanent, processed JPEG or TIFF version. You can do that in Adobe Camera Raw too, and it will be saved alongside your original file.
So let’s see this in action with a sample image.
1. Open in Camera Raw
I’ve found the image I want to work on by browsing my folders in Adobe Bridge. It’s a RAW file, but that’s fine – that’s what Adobe Camera Raw is made for (though it will also edit JPEGs and TIFFs). All I need to do now is right-click and choose ‘Open in Camera Raw’.
2. Camera Raw adjustments
The tools in Adobe Camera Raw are the same as those in Lightroom, it’s just that the interface is a little different. I’ve done just a few things here – chosen a different profile, applied a subtle vignette effect and done a little color grading to give a gritty vintage look. See the filmstrip at the bottom? Camera Raw can open and work on more than one image at once, and can even be used for HDR and Panorama merges.
3. Share/save the image
If I close the image right now, Adobe Camera Raw will save the image with the editing metadata attached. The edits will show in Adobe Bridge, but not non-Adobe software. If I want to export a processed JPEG or TIFF, that’s easy to do with the Share button – you can set up all sorts of export presets as needed.
4. Here’s my image saved AND shared
Back in Adobe Bridge I have two version of the image that look the same but aren’t. One is the RAW file I edited that is now displayed with my editing adjustments – all undoable and removable (I just need to right-click and choose Open in Camera Raw again for the RAW file). The other is an exported JPEG where the processing is applied to permanent, shareable image.
Adobe Bridge vs Lightroom
Does it seem a waste to get a Photography Plan subscription and then use Adobe Bridge and not Lightroom? Well, maybe, but you can’t get Bridge and Camera Raw on their own, and a Photography Plan is the cheapest way to do it.
The fact is, for many photographers, Adobe Bridge and Camera Raw could prove a simpler and more effective workflow than Lightroom. You don’t get the sophisticated search and organizing tools of Lightroom, but you do get the same editing potential matched up with a direct and straightforward ‘live’ browsing tool.
Adobe Photography Plans
• Adobe Photography Plan: $9.99/month
• Adobe Photography Plan (1TB): $19.99/month
Lightroom Plan (1TB): $9.99/month
A trial version lasting just a few days is available